WGA, AMPTP unlikely to meet anytime soon

The tone of the WGA strike — now in its sixth week — keeps getting nastier, with both sides abandoning any pretense of diplomacy.

In the wake of Friday’s meltdown of negotiations — spurred by the AMPTP’s insistence that the Writers Guild of America remove half a dozen demands as a condition of continuing the bargaining — the WGA and AMPTP made it clear in dueling statements Monday that there’s virtually no chance they’ll get back to the table anytime soon.

Monday saw both sides resort to insult as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers persisted in referring to WGA leaders as “organizers” while a guild missive about the AMPTP began, “They lie. And then they lie again. And then they lie some more.”

The exchanges left the town buzzing over the ugliness of it all. Many industry insiders expressed disbelief that the divide is so huge that guild and AMPTP negotiators can’t agree on even the most mundane matters, such as the timing of the AMPTP’s delivery of its most recent offer on Friday.

“It’s really over,” opined one veteran exec. “The only way that they could get back together is for the WGA leaders to say, ‘OK, we were wrong, and we’ll take everything off the table except for streaming and electronic sell-through.’ That’s not going to happen because they’ve talked themselves into a corner.”

And it’s notable that negotiations melted down a few hours after WGA West president Patric Verrone insisted at a Friday rally outside FremantleMedia’s Burbank offices that reality jurisdiction had been part of the guild’s negotiating package contract from the start and had never been taken off the table. “It will be in our next contract,” Verrone flatly told the crowd.

One agent contends WGA leaders have been naive in highlighting how hardline the majors have been at the bargaining table.

“Of course, studios are going to be that way,” he noted. “Why do you think agents have jobs? Anyone who makes deals knows there are times when you loathe the person you’re negotiating with, but you get over it and you make the deal, and if there’s yelling, you send them a bottle of wine.”

On Monday, Verrone and WGA East prexy Michael Winship recapped the collapse of negotiations and told members it had been preordained by the AMPTP.

Verrone characterized the AMPTP moves as “actions that have shown a total disregard for their responsibilities to the creative community and the below-the-line workers that give so much to our industry. Still, our resolve is unwavering, and our utterly reasonable goal of achieving a contract for writers that allows us to keep up in a booming global industry is still the focus of our efforts.”

Verrone’s response was measured by comparison to that of Winship, who took the incendiary route in his message to guild members: “They lie. And then they lie again. And then they lie some more. Because the AMPTP wants to create confusion, doubt, fear and dissension. They want to divide and conquer, to undercut our proven solidarity. They are spending a fortune — money that better could be used to help cover the comparatively small amount we’re asking for — on newspapers ads, political spin doctors and crisis management consultants specializing in union busting.

“The bottom line: Don’t believe a word the AMPTP has to say,” he added. “If I hadn’t seen and heard it with my own eyes, I might not have believed the extraordinary depths of their dissembling.”

Winship also said that the AMPTP had seized what he called a brief discussion of jurisdiction to fuel “ludicrous” rumors that negotiations broke down because of animation and reality. And he noted that the collapse of talks was followed a few minutes later by an AMPTP news release — suggesting it had been prepared well in advance.

Winship concluded the missive on a particularly tart note. “We are smarter, more committed and more united,” Winship said. “That is our strength. That is our power. That is why we will win.”

AMPTP execs seethed over the statements and a few hours later issued a 1,000-word deconstruction of the WGA statements titled “AMPTP: Setting the Record Straight: Version 2.0.”

Key points:

  • The AMPTP said it’s made it clear repeatedly that it opposes any expansion of WGA jurisdiction into reality and animation and insisted that the WGA’s continued push for that oversight is why talks broke down.

“The negotiations did not break down over new-media issues,” the AMPTP said. “Instead, the negotiations broke down primarily over one of the most old-fashioned issues of all: the desire of the WGA’s organizers to increase their own power and prestige by expanding the jurisdiction of the union over reality television and animation writers. These jurisdictional expansion efforts have very little to do with the concerns of the working writers who are on strike.”

  • Winship and Verrone were not in the negotiating room Friday. “Instead Mr. Verrone attended a rock concert and rally held to support the WGA’s still-unsuccessful attempt to organize reality television writers,” it said.

  • The AMPTP claims it presented a new version of the economic proposal at 2:30 p.m. Friday, rather than at 6 p.m., as asserted in Winship’s letter.

  • The AMPTP took issue with WGA negotiating committee chief John Bowman’s assertion that the companies hadn’t delivered an Internet proposal after the WGA took its DVD proposal off the table on Nov. 4.

“The AMPTP never demanded that the WGA withdraw its DVD proposal as a pre-condition to making an offer on Internet residuals. In fact, the AMPTP’s actions proved otherwise, as the AMPTP presented the WGA with a wholly new TV streaming residual proposal before the WGA withdrew its proposal to double DVD residuals.”

The WGA plans to keep tweaking the majors as it starts delivery todayof more than 500,000 pencils paid for by TV fans to send to the media moguls as a show of support for scribes. Pencils will be delivered first to NBC’s Jeff Zucker, then to Disney’s Robert Iger and GE’s Jeffrey Immelt.

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